Our books






Become a Fan

« On DeCruz's post on academic pedigree & hiring -- some more data | Main | SpaceTimeMind: Episode 3 »

04/14/2014

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Marcus Arvan

Moti: I haven't listened to the interview, so I can't vouch for your formulation of the argument. But, if it is the argument, I am entirely in agreement with you. Furthermore, even if it's not the argument, I think philosophers often tacitly appeal to something like it when they give their arguments. The general thought seems to be: "Well, we don't have anything better than intuitions in philosophy, so we just have to roll with them." As you note, this seems doubly false. First, if a method is bad, it is *bad*. We wouldn't think it is good to sit around and speculate on phlogiston if we had no epistemically justifiable methods for engaging in such speculations. But something like this happens all the time in philosophy. People give arguments about the nature of X based on intuitions that not everyone shares. Second, as I've noted a few times recently, I think there is a better way: namely, using intuitions to map conceptual space, and theorize about that conceptual space without assuming that one set of intuitions is correct.

Moti Mizrahi

Thanks for your comment, Marcus.

I think that this sort of argument may be a particular instance of a more general mistake, which we have discussed on the Cocoon before, namely, looking for your keys where there's light, not where you lost them: http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2012/08/searching-for-truth-under-a-lamppost.html

In any case, it is a bad argument.

Eric Morton

I think it’s important to keep the issue of whether there are other methods separate from the issue of what would be justified if there are no other methods. I want to set aside the issue of whether there are any other methods. Maybe there are other methods. Maybe there aren’t. I take no stand on that issue.

However, if there is no other method, then I think Nagel is right. Let me explain. You wrote: “As far as the first premise is concerned, nothing about the epistemic status of the methods we do have necessarily follows from the fact that they are the only methods we have.” This seems exactly right if you mean: we don’t have any assurance (from the fact that a philosophical method is the only one that we have) that it will result in us obtaining true beliefs. But it seems wrong if you take it that the lesson is that we’re not justified in using the method we have.

The ladder in the pit example you and Nagel use seems exactly on target. But it seems to me that we should draw exactly the opposite conclusion from the one you draw. From the fact that there is only one ladder in the pit, we can draw absolutely no lesson about the strength of the ladder. But nevertheless, we are clearly justified in relying on that one ladder. If the ladder is the only method of getting out of the pit, then try the ladder. It is the dominant strategy: if it doesn’t work, nothing will work. So being justified in trying the ladder is disconnected from having evidence that the ladder won’t collapse. Similarly, being justified in using a particular epistemological strategy is a different matter from knowing anything about the epistemic credentials of that strategy. I take it to be clearly wrong to say that someone who tried the ladder acted in an unjustified way. If I found that someone sat in the pit and starved to death and never tried the ladder, I would find their actions unreasonable.

The points that Marcus made work only if there is some better method (again, I take no stand on this). If there is no better method, though, then Marcus’s points would amount to: since people don’t always share intuitions, we should give up trying to make any progress. Similarly, there is nothing wrong with looking around under the lamppost if that is where you are and if you cannot leave. In fact, if you want to find your keys and you can’t leave the area under the lamp post, then keeping your eyes open so you can look around is the dominant strategy (if that strategy doesn’t work, then nothing will).

Wesley Buckwalter

Hey Moti,

I agree that there are many things one might want to question about the argument that you offer above. But I thought the basic point being made in that section of the Philosophy TV discussion was this thing about necessary temporal priority of approaches. If I understood the point correctly (maybe I don't!), it was just that it's not always necessarily the case that we must first empirically scrutinize intuitions in various ways before they can still be theoretically useful to us. Personally, I agree. I think it's sometimes really reasonable and potentially very valuable to use intuition as an initial start and guide to all sorts of questions or areas of inquiry. I'd just add that what's sometime problematic about this is when that reasonable initial starting point is mistook for the end of inquiry in a debate, especially in cases where further empirical work might really reveal something philosophical important about those judgments.

Wesley

Moti Mizrahi

Eric, thanks very much for your comment.

I think we may be talking about different notions of justification. As I understand your comment, you seem to be talking about *pragmatic justification*, i.e., having reasons for action. So, if M is the only method we’ve got, then that is a reason to try M. But I am talking about *epistemic justification*, i.e., reasons to believe that something is true. In that sense, that M is the only method we’ve got is not a reason to believe that M is a good method.

Applying this to the ladder in the pit case, if the ladder is the only thing you’ve got, then you might as well try it. But just the fact that it is the only thing you’ve got is not an epistemic reason to believe that the ladder won’t break. So, if you use the ladder, you are being *instrumentally rational*, since this is the only available means (the ladder) to achieve your ends (climbing out of the pit). But that is different from saying that you are epistemically justified in using it (i.e., that you have good reasons to believe it works).

Moti Mizrahi

Hi Wesley,

Perhaps you can say more about what you mean by “theoretically useful to us.” When you talk about using “intuition as an initial start and guide to all sorts of questions or areas of inquiry,” I take you to mean that intuitions can suggest to us avenues of research that we might want to pursue. I don’t have a problem with that. However, if by “theoretically useful,” you also mean that intuitions can be used as evidence, then I would disagree with that. I think that there are no good reasons to believe that the method of cases is more likely to yield truths than falsehoods. (In fact, in the post I link to papers in which I argue that there are good reasons to believe that the method of case is unreliable.) The “We Don’t Have to Sterilize the Tools Before We Use Them” argument is utterly inadequate as a defense of the evidential use of intuitions.

Mert

I think a defense of intuitions as evidence can be maintained even while admitting that intuitions are in general unreliable. Let's say in general intuitions are as likely to be true as they are false. In any particular situation, like in the Pit analogy being discussed, although one might not have any good epistemic reasons or justification to take an intuition as evidence, one is still justified in appealing to an intuition (assuming there is no other method available), i.e. taking a step up the ladder, because one has more reason to appeal to the intuition than one has to give up climbing out of the pit. This reason is in some sense a practical or instrumental reason as opposed to strictly 'epistemic' justification that Moti seems to think we need, but the former is what is relevant to any particular case where one has incomplete information.

Marcus Arvan

Mert: I don't think your line of thought is coherent. If it is *equally* likely that an intuition is true or false, then you have no reason to think that you are even taking a step up the ladder out of the pit of ignorance. For all you know, you are taking a step down the ladder deeper into the pit!

Mert

Assuming there is a coherent distinction between objective reasons, by which I’ll mean reasons relative to all the facts regardless of whether the agent is aware of them, and subjective reasons, by which I’ll mean reasons relative only to the facts of which the agent is aware, then I think my response is coherent. I agree with you that as far as objective reasons go, you have no reason to believe you’d be going up as opposed to down the ladder (which is what I take you to mean by “for all you know you’re going down ...”). But it’s your [i.e. the example agent’s] intuition, so I think you have a subjective reason to believe that your particular intuition is correct despite believing that there is a 50 percent chance that is wrong.
I think this subjective reason of yours means that you have a practical reason, and are thereby justified, to suspend doubt as to whether you’d really be going up or down by appealing to the intuition (assuming that there is reason to be trying to get out of this pit in the first place!)

Moti Mizrahi

Mert: Thanks very much for your comment.

Perhaps you could say more about what you mean when you write: “This reason is in some sense a practical or instrumental reason as opposed to strictly 'epistemic' justification that Moti seems to think we need, but the former is what is relevant to any particular case where one has incomplete information.” Otherwise, I agree with Marcus that your line of thought is incoherent. If you don’t have an epistemic reason to think that the ladder will not break (or that appealing to intuition is likely to yield true beliefs), then the fact that you don’t want to give up climbing out of the pit (or that you don’t want to give up philosophical inquiry) is no epistemic reason to believe that the ladder (or intuition) will likely get you what you want.

Eric Morton

Moti: You are surely right about the differing conceptions of justification at play in our two posts (epistemic versus practical). I want to suggest that when we’re talking about justification for adopting a policy or strategy, practical justification (instrumental rationality) is justification indeed. The question is: should we adopt the policy of treating intuitions as evidence when we do philosophy? Obviously the way I’ve just formulated it, that’s a practical question about what we should *do*.

You wrote: The “We Don’t Have to Sterilize the Tools Before We Use Them” argument is utterly inadequate as a defense of the evidential use of intuitions. I agree that that will be so if you think that epistemic justification is the only kind of justification worthy of the name. If you think that practical justification is important, then (I argue) that argument does suffice. Why, when we’re talking about what policies we should adopt, should we set aside practical justification as though it were no justification at all?

I also want to try to defend Mert versus Marcus’s charge of incoherence. Marcus writes: “If it is *equally* likely that an intuition is true or false, then you have no reason to think that you are even taking a step up the ladder out of the pit of ignorance. For all you know, you are taking a step down the ladder deeper into the pit!”

Let’s change our analogy a bit. We’re in a pit, and we want to get out of it. There is no ladder. Instead, there is an elevator box you can step into. That box is 50% likely to transport one up and out of the pit and 50% likely to transport one down (hopelessly deep in the pit). Assume there is no other method of getting out of the pit besides using the box. Marcus is surely right that we won’t have any reason to think that the box won’t transport us down, deeper into the pit. Nevertheless, entering the box and gambling is surely the pragmatically justified policy to adopt. The strategy is dominant: if there is no other method to try, then trying the box has a higher win likelihood compared to doing nothing.

Notice that all throughout my discussion, I have simply agreed with you (Moti and Marcus) that you are right that having only one method is no epistemic reason at all to think that one method will work. But I think that any amount of charity on your part will help you realize that anyone who employs the “We Don’t Have to Sterilize the Tools Before We Use Them” argument (say, Nagel for example) is probably also prepared to agree with you on that. What you are insisting on is pretty obviously right. The only reason any competent philosopher would employ the “We Don’t Have to Sterilize the Tools Before We Use Them” argument is because they are not agreeing with you that only epistemic justification counts as justification.

Mert

Moti, the paradigm cases of what I was referring to by claiming that practical reason as opposed to epistemic reason is relevant to situations where the agent has incomplete information are cases like the three envelope paradox (see Jacob Ross's Rationality, Normativity, and Commitment) or Mineshafts, (See Parfit's On What Matters). These are cases that seem to be counter-examples to Objectivism, i.e. cases where it seems obvious the agent ought to do something that he knows there is no objective reason to do. Eric gets at the basic idea in his example by noting that the dominant strategy is the subjectively justified one, despite a lack of objective justification.

Moti Mizrahi

Thanks for the follow-up comment, Eric.

I am glad we agree on the epistemic justification issue. But I don’t think that I am ruling out practical justification. Even as a practical reason to adopt the method of cases, “it’s the only method we’ve got” is a bad reason. Unless we have good reasons to believe that the method of cases is likely to get us what we’re after (i.e., true beliefs), “it’s the only method we’ve got” may be a reason to *try* it but not to *adopt* it. (In the papers I link to in the post, I argue that the method of cases is unlikely to get us what we want.)

The problem with the method of cases, however, is that trying it does not tell us anything about how good it is. This is because the method of cases yields different results when used by equally competent people (e.g., professional philosophers), and there is no independent way to tell which of these results are the correct ones.

Moti Mizrahi

Thanks for the follow-up comment, Mert.

As I said in my reply to Eric, I am willing to grant that practical reasons can justify adopting a method. I am also willing to grant that subjective reasons can justify adopting a method. But I think that “it’s the only method we’ve got” is a bad reason for *adopting* a method. It may be a sufficient reason for *trying out* the method to see if it works. If it works, then that’s a good reason to adopt the method. The problem with the method of cases is that, even if you try it, you can’t tell if it works or not.

By the way, two minor points: (a) I think that the “dominant strategy” talk is misleading here. In game theory, dominance is a *relation* between strategies. Since we have stipulated that there is only one strategy (i.e., method), the dominance relation does not apply here, given that there are no other relata. (b) If appealing to intuitions is akin to “gambling,” as Eric’s box in the pit case seems to suggest, then I think that’s a serious problem.

Mert

Moti, that's a helpful clarification. I had thought that the disagreement was about whether there was sufficient reason for trying out the method of cases to see if it works (to get you out of the pit, i.e. true beliefs), as opposed to adopting it (i.e. after seeing if it works). You write:

that “it’s the only method we’ve got” is a bad reason for *adopting* a method. It may be a sufficient reason for *trying out* the method to see if it works.

So you would agree that: to whatever extent the question, of whether the method of cases works, is an open question that we're still trying to answer, there is reason to keep trying out the method of cases (assuming it's the only method we've got).

As to whether we ought adopt intuitions as a method (and that thereby the question is closed), you argue roughly that (1) that a requirement for justification to adopt a method is that it works, i.e. reliably tracks the truth, and (2) that our intuitions do not reliably track the truth, so therefore (3) we should not adopt intuitions as a method. I've granted (2) that our intuitions do not reliably track the truth, by assuming that our intuitions have 50/50 odds as to whether they are correct or incorrect. I disagree with (1). From the 50/50 assumption, it also follows that our intuitions are no more likely to mislead us into believing falsehoods than to lead us to truths. Contra (1) I think the relevant requirement for being justified in adopting a method is that it is not more likely to (mis)lead us into believing falsehoods than to lead us to believing truths.

When you are argue for (2) in "Does the Method of Cases Rest on a Mistake," you respond to the worry that your argument is self-defeating by pointing out that you're making an argument by analogy (to sense perception) as opposed to relying on the case method/ an intuition. You write:

"The question, then, is whether intuition pumps are bad epistemic circumstances. I argue that intuition pumps are bad epistemic circumstances because what we intuit in response to intuition pumps is not the facts about the hypothetical case in question but rather the details we fill in to make sense of that hypothetical case. The problem is that people fill in the details in different ways and there is no principled way to control for this kind of details-filling when constructing intuition pumps."Pg. 26 of "Does the Method of Cases Rest on a Mistake."

I think your argument by analogy is merely an appeal to intuition that makes (somewhat) ‘explicit’ the claim that there is no detail-filling that needs controlling for. But if there is no principled way to control for misleading details-filling in the case of intuitions (where there is an implicit claim of a lack of misleading detail-filling) then surely there is no principled way to know whether your argument by analogy actually involves no misleading detail-filling. What could be the relevant difference between the arguments/ appeals with explicit claims and those with implicit claims?

Merely because there is no principled way to control for misleading details-filling when constructing intuition pumps, it does not follow that we are more likely to have false intuitions than true ones. Moreover, with respect to any particular intuition that one has, if there is an open question as to whether it is correct, then as discussed above wouldn't you agree that we’re justified in continuing to try the case method, i.e. refining the case to see if we can eliminate the potentially misleading detail-filling. Don’t most cases or intuitions appealed to by those using the case method involve open questions as to whether the intuitions are correct, and thereby don’t we in general have reason to continue trying the method- noting that we also have reason to be more discerning as to whether a case involves potentially misleading detail-filling.

(a) As I take it the two strategies are trying the method of cases and not trying it. Trying it out is the dominant strategy because regardless of whether your intuitions are correct or incorrect, you aren't worse off by opting to rely on them (under the stipulation that there's no other method to try): We were assuming you are trying to get out of the pit, i.e. attain true beliefs, so you aren't worse off by opting to rely on intuitions in the sense that false intuitions and an absence of intuitions both fail to get you true beliefs. (b) I think you're right that there is a potential worry with Eric's Elevator formulation. Contra his formulation and Marcus's assumption that if your intuition is wrong you fall deeper into the pit, I think that if your intuition is incorrect you simply fall back to the bottom of the pit, i.e. fail to have a true belief. (In light of the alternate formulation and the dominance argument, is there still a “gambling” worry?)

Eric Morton

I see that while I was writing this comment Mert's last comment was being approved and has gone live. There is some overlap between what I say here and what Mert says in his last paragraph. But I guess I'll post this anyway.

Thanks, Moti, for the interesting post and the interesting and thought provoking replies.

Regarding dominance being a relation, and the suggestion that dominance talk is out of place here: I think we can talk about dominance here, just as we can when it comes to getting out of the pit. Since even if there is no other strategy with any likelihood of success (there is only one ladder, or one elevator box, say), there is always another strategy: stand there and do nothing (give up), which as far as we can tell has a zero percent chance of success. So when you have one strategy to adopt, and the other strategy is “give up, stand there and do nothing,” the one strategy with any chance of success is always the dominant one.

If that is right, then when it comes to philosophy, even if there is only one philosophical strategy, there is always the “give up on philosophy; stop thinking; resign ourselves to ignorance” strategy. So a philosopher will always have a practical justification for adopting the one strategy that has any promise: it is the dominant strategy.

Marcus Arvan

Mert, Eric, etc.: I don't think the argument your dominant strategy argument is sound. If the only method one has is a *bad* one, you should indeed give up. There is no point to engaging in inquiry that has no good methods. This was Dennett's point in his famous "Chmess" piece. If something can't be done well, it *isn't* worth doing. If philosophy is just mucking around with intuitions that have no good epistemic justification, philosophy is worthless.

Fortunately, though, I think the common supposition here is false. I don't think philosophy has no good methods. As I've said before, providing systematic accounts of *why* people have differing intuitions has a lot (epistemically) to be said for it. A philosophy oriented in this way seeks to explain a demonstrable fact: namely, that people do not have the same intuitions on various issues. Figuring out *why* this is the case is epistemically valuable. It is merely basing arguments on *contentious* intuitions that Moti and I have problems with -- and I do not think the challenge to that method has been met. It is a bad method, and one is better off playing cricket than mucking around with bad methods.

Indeed, doesn't "science" prior to the scientific method show this? When the ancients made intuitive philosophical arguments about the nature of reality (viz. Thales saying all is water, Heraclitus saying all is flux, etc.), they were just wasting time (or, to paraphrase Wittgenstein, they were "just gassing". Or, to put it more crudely still, they were just bullshitting!). They were all just mucking around with bad methods. That's why what they were doing looks so quaint to us now.

Eric Morton

Thanks for the thought provoking reply, Marcus.

Consider this: Meno defines virtue as the ability to rule over others. Socrates brings up this case: the ruler who rules over others unjustly, the tyrant. Why does Socrates bring up this case? Arguably, it is an intuition pump. Meno immediately sees that his definition was inadequate. Why? Because it conflicts with the intuition we all have that the unjust tyrant doesn’t count as virtuous. Meno comes to feel numb. Realizing that he doesn’t in fact know. Progress has, I contend, been made. Meno is less ignorant than he was before. The progress seems to have been made by the reliance on uncontentious shared intuitions. Maybe this really is worthless and should count as no progress at all. But I’m doubtful.

Certainly if we assume that the one method is a bad one with a *zero* percent chance of success, then that strategy isn’t dominant. But I think assuming from the get-go that the case method has a zero percent chance of success would be pretty contentious (Obviously this is not the sort of claim one could simply assume will be accepted when faced with an opponent who is employing the “We Don’t Have to Sterilize the Tools before We Use Them” Argument). Claiming that the method has its weaknesses, or that it’s not reliable is something else. Claiming that it’s a weak method or that it has its limitations, or that people overuse it, or that it has failed us in the past --- none of those justify the claim that it has a *zero* percent chance of helping. If a single strategy has *any* chance of success (greater than zero) then it’s the dominant strategy compared to the strategy of giving up. And so we have a practical justification for using it (if it’s the only one available).

I like the method you suggest. But, as you noted, what I was interested in here was whether the “We Don’t Have to Sterilize the Tools before We Use Them” Argument can succeed on the supposition that there are no other philosophical methods. While I’m nowhere near as suspicious of the use of intuitions as you obviously are, I don’t for a minute think that there couldn’t be other fruitful methods.

Marcus Arvan

Eric: Thanks for your reply! Funny you should mention Socrates' argument. I think it's a *terrible* argument, and that the failure to see why it's terrible is precisely what is wrong with the way philosophy is too often done.

For let's think a moment about what Socrates did. All he did was pump an intuition -- appealing to Meno's *prejudices*. I think if Meno were a more clever guy, he would have done what Hobbes did. Hobbes argued -- on really systematic grounds -- that the tyrant is doing *exactly* what they rationally ought to do. Hobbes argued that when we look at how human beings behave -- at how human beings make normative judgments, among other things -- we see that normativity is instrumental. Hobbes then gave an elaborate (if flawed) argument that instrumental normativity FAVORS acting like a tyrant.

Hobbes, for all his errors, was being the better philosopher. Unlike Socrates, he wasn't just appealing to an intuition -- an intuition that I don't think Meno is epistemically *entitled* to. No, Hobbes was developing a systematic theory of human behavior and normativity based on observation. And of course Nietzsche would have none of Socrates' preconceptions either!

Now, of course, Hobbes (and Nietzsche) might have made *mistakes* themselves. But, that's quite aside from the point. The point is that Socrates was doing something epistemically very, *very* bad: simply appealing to his audience's untutored intuitions, and letting them (people like Meno) make *really* quick philosophical moves away from potentially defensible positions (e.g. immoralism, etc.) on the basis of nothing more than those individuals' preconceptions. Indeed, I've had many, many students make the very same point in class(they often say things like, "Socrates just leads people to tease out their own preconceptions!").

In short, I say: *Socrates* didn't sterilize his methods appropriately, and our failure to understand this has -- for a few thousand years now -- led philosophy down far too many utterly mistaken garden paths.

The alternative method I am proposing -- one that I think is far more justified -- is more like Hobbes'. Look beyond intuitions in cases and examine (A) human behavior, (B) how we categorize things, (C) how we make normative judgments, etc., and construct elaborate theories on the bases of those observations, not mere "intuition."

Eric Morton

Marcus, thanks for another very nice (and thought-provoking, and colorful!) reply.

So I agree with most everything you say, accept at the point where you insert your own normative judgments about what Socrates did. You say it was very, very bad. And that it’s a terrible argument. I’m not so sure. I do agree with you and your students (and my students; and myself for that matter) that Socrates is only teasing out what follows from his interlocutor’s own preconceptions/prejudices/intuitions. But all things considered, it seems to me that Socrates probably helped Meno see something he didn’t see before, and that Meno and he probably made some progress in coming to realize that things aren’t as simple as he thought. At least that seems possible to me. Now certainly others may disagree (perhaps Hobbes and Nietzsche, and you). But disagreement is part-and-parcel to philosophy. It comes with the terrain. I don’t find that too worrisome.

But again, back to the question at issue. If there was no other method available than this method Socrates employed (the one you’ve just handily shown has all these problems), what should we do if we seek the truth? If there were no other method, then I should need A LOT more convincing about the absolute badness (the absolute futility of employing it) before it would be reasonable to not even try the method. Perhaps I’m not wrong about Meno. Perhaps he has gained something positive. Perhaps I could gain something similar for myself if I try.

I think we’re approaching that “who bears the burden of proof?” moment that often arises when you push on a philosophical question long enough. I contend that if the situation was such that there was no other method, then any method (even the method full of holes and problems employed by our dear old Socrates) is worth trying. And I contend that one would have reason to continue to try it unless it was *conclusively* established somehow that the method could not – absolutely could not – ever produce positive results. Simply heaping suspicion on the method would not be even close to enough. Why do I think this? That’s right:

Back to the pit with the elevator box. I’m in the pit and I want to get out, and there is nothing else to be done than to try the box or give up. Trying the box is dominant, and we have a practical justification to try it. And we would have the same level of justification unless there was some reason to believe with total assurance that there was a zero percent chance that it could help. Just heaping suspicion on the idea and pointing out all sorts of reasons to think it probably could not help would not be enough. Similarly when it comes to philosophy: heaping scorn on Socrates’ method is not going to meet the burden of proof you bear. For trying the one and only method we know of will always be dominant unless you can absolutely (conclusively) establish that nothing positive can result from using it. And I don’t suspect that that is going to happen.

Marcus Arvan

Eric: :) I like what you say about Meno making some progress. You're right. Socrates has at least gotten Meno to see that things are not as simple as he thought. And, if that's all intuition-mongering philosophy did (i.e. explore how things may be more complex than we thought), I guess would have no problem with it! But of course Socrates did not stop there. He kept going -- and got Meno to keep going -- with the intuitions, behaving as though they provide real philosophical knowledge of the subject matter in question (above any beyond the knowledge that things are complicated**Note: Socrates of course disclaims elsewhere that "All I know is that I know nothing", but he certainly doesn't behave this way with his interlocutors. Most of the time, he acts as if he does know what he's talking about, and as though he knows he's making progress). Anyway, this is where I think Socrates' method -- and the method of intuition mongering in general -- fails. Socrates let his intuitions guide him so far down the garden path that he ended up concluding it was better to die than to live. That's the problem with pumping intuitions. Pumping intuitions can lead -- and I would say, all too often in history, has led -- *away* from truth and understanding, and more in the direction of dangerous absurdities.

So, yeah, I suppose we disagree. :)

But, back to the Pit in the box. You say, "I'm in the pit and I want to get out, and there is nothing else to be done than to try the box or give up. Trying the box is dominant." I'm still unconvinced. For suppose that, for all you know, the box could just as well take you down into the pits of Hell. In that case, unless you have some *positive* idea that it won't take you to Hell, it's not a dominant strategy. And, I would say, all too often, intuition-mongering philosophy has led to its equivalent (Socrates and death, Pyrrhoian skepticism, Rousseauian political philosophy, etc.). :)

In short, I don't think it's a dominant strategy. I think there are real risks when using dubious method, and that one ought to think carefully about the risks -- and whether alternative methods may be less risky -- before proceeding into the dark.

Mert

Interesting. Marcus, I'm curious if on your view there is anything the Tyrant could do that would make him a counterexample to Meno's definition?(Surely anything he did could be instrumentally rational with respect to *some* end).

Marcus, when you say the case method is bad, do you mean the weaker claim that it is in general as likely to get you true beliefs as it is false beliefs, or do you mean the stronger claim that it is in general *more* likely to get you false beliefs than true ones? I grant the weaker claim is largely true- while noting that with regard to some *particular* cases our intuitions are likely to be true.

Marcus, if your position is that we are in general justified appealing to intuitions about cases- as long we scrutinize them by appeal to "systematic accounts of *why* people have differing intuitions," then we agree. This is consistent with thinking that there is an over reliance on the case method, i.e. that they should be used less.

Eric Morton

Thanks for the reply Marcus.

That post really helps me to understand why you’re worried about the method (and about the “dominant strategy” argument Mert and I have been pressing, and why you think doing nothing would be better. However, consider this. Imagine that as you sit there reading this post (say, right about the moment when you read the last line) your field of vision goes completely black for a few minutes and your body goes strangely numb. After a moment or two, it clears, and you find yourself – Marcus – sitting in a deep black pit. You can see the sky far, far above you. You notice a moon that is clearly not the Earth’s moon in the sky passing over the pit. Before you is an elevator box. It appears similar to all the other elevator boxes you’ve ever seen. Inside it has a single button. You think back to the recent blog discussion you were having regarding this very thing. You weigh your options. You decide at first not to push the button (since for all you know this could open a trap door allowing you to fall into a fiery inferno below). And for all you know, maybe someone will come to rescue you if you wait. But you wait for days and days. Eventually you realize that if you continue waiting like this with no water, you’ll die of dehydration. What should you do? What’s the rational thing to do? I contend that you should push the button. You have practical justification for pushing it. Because if that strategy doesn’t work, then it appears that nothing will. I contend that this would be the case even if you had some (very credible) reason to be suspicious that this particular model of elevator was highly likely to explode.

Let’s leave the pit now for a moment. (But I’ll come back to it in a moment). I take it that if we had reasons to be highly suspicious that using Socrates’s method would get us killed, or would inflict serious impairment upon us, then that would perhaps undermine the dominance argument. Because then maybe the doing nothing and resigning ourselves to ignorance strategy might appear the better strategy. But I think that most of us don’t really have such reasons to be *that* suspicious of the practical effects of philosophy on our lives. Sure, Socrates may have died. But most people who take philosophy seriously and engage in intuition-mongering don’t end up dead or impaired from it.

(Back to the pit): I think this is important because I suppose that if the only time you’d ever seen an elevator box it was being used to incinerate people or something, then maybe pushing the button wouldn’t be rational. Better to just lie down and die? Even then I’m not so sure one shouldn’t try it if there was nothing left to try.

Finally, I want to reiterate (for the benefit of someone who may later just skim over this discussion) that I’m not for a moment arguing that there are no other methods in philosophy. Only that if there was only one method, we philosophers would be justified in using it despite any known problems or worries about it.

Moti Mizrahi

Mert, you ask if I would agree that “there is a reason to keep trying out the method of cases.” I would not agree with that. We have been trying out the method of cases for ages with nothing to show for. Since there are reasons to believe that the method is systematically misleading, it is time to abandon it.

In the “Does the Method of Cases Rest on a Mistake?” I do not argue that intuitions are unreliable. Rather, I argue that making intuitive judgments in bad epistemic circumstances is unreliable. This simply follows from the perception-intuition analogy, which many defenders of the evidential role of intuitions accept. Now, since intuition pumps are bad epistemic circumstances, it follows that the method of cases is unreliable. I don’t see where I appeal to intuition in this argument.

I wish you were right about philosophers using the method of cases as raising questions about the truth of the intuitions. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case. Intuitions are often used as definitive evidence either for or against philosophical claims. I cite plenty of examples in the papers linked to in the post.

Finally, there is still a “gambling” worry if the 50/50 assumption, which you seem to accept, holds.

Moti Mizrahi

Eric, as I said, the point about the dominance relation was a minor one. But your reply suggests to me that, contrary to what you have said in your first comment, your argument is not really silent about whether there are other philosophical methods. In fact, a crucial premise in your argument is that the method of cases is the only one. That is:

1. Either we appeal to intuitions or stop doing philosophy.
2. We don’t want to stop doing philosophy.
3. Therefore, we should appeal to intuitions.

Your “dominant strategy” argument does not get off the ground without assuming that it’s the intuition way or the highway. Like Marcus, however, I don’t buy this false choice. And even if I did, I would think that we should stop doing philosophy, since we would be fooling ourselves. Better not to do philosophy at all than to do it badly.

Eric Morton

Thanks for the reply Moti, but I think you’ve lost track of how minor the point is that I’m trying to make.

I agree with you entirely that the dominant strategy argument only succeeds if there are no other methods. That’s all I ever set out to prove, though. And you seem to miss that. The only thing I’ve been wondering is whether P1 in your original post holds, on the assumption that there is only one method. At the beginning of my first post I wrote:

“I think it’s important to keep the issue of whether there are other methods separate from the issue of what would be justified if there are no other methods. I want to set aside the issue of whether there are any other methods. Maybe there are other methods. Maybe there aren’t. I take no stand on that issue. However, if there is no other method, then I think Nagel is right. Let me explain.”

Notice, I am not arguing that there are no other methods. But I am arguing that *if* there are no other methods, then the use of that one method is justified, because of the “dominant strategy” argument. And if that’s the question at issue, then we are all assuming there are no other methods (for the sake of argument). And so the fact that you and Marcus (and I) are not on-board with that assumption generally speaking, is neither here nor there. As I've said, I don't believe for a minute that there are no other methods. Only that *if* there are no other methods, then the “We Don’t Have to Sterilize the Tools before We Use Them” Argument is sound.

Marcus Arvan

Eric: Thanks for your reply. Your way of re-telling the pit helps me make more sense of what I think is wrong with it.

I think the analogy is bad in three ways.

First, I don't think you even know there is a "sky" above you. For all you know, what looks like a sky is actually a pit of Hell. Why do I think this? Answer: because there isn't any clear evidence that philosophy leads to any form of wisdom or happiness.

Second, I think you arguably have *more* reason to think the button will take you into a pit of hell than up to the "sky." Here's why. I think (bad, intuition-based) philosophy arguably has a pattern of making people into worse human beings. (For more on this see Eric Schliesser's post here: http://digressionsnimpressions.typepad.com/digressionsimpressions/2014/04/on-harms-done-to-philosophers-and-the-world-by-philosophy-or-on-going-to-the-gym.html ).

Consider Socrates. His speculations led him to believe that death is better than life, and that Forms are more important than people -- and he believed this so deeply that he decided it would be better to spend his dying minutes talking metaphysics with a bunch of dudes than to engage emotionally and humanly with his weeping wife Xanthippe and their children, who he summarily had escorted out of his sight without a second thought. Philosophy, I say, made Socrates into a monster. It led him "so far down the rabbit hole" that he couldn't tell his arse from his heart. Indeed, he didn't seem to *have* a heart. To him, philosophy -- literally -- was preparation for death. And how many other philosophers has philosophy turned into monsters? Well, Wittgenstein wasn't exactly the most pleasant, good, or happy dude. Neither was Kant (who used the categorical imperative to defend basically all kinds of horrible preconceptions of his, ranging from prohibitions of "sexual deviancy" to a requirement to return wives and slaves to their husbands/masters). Neither was Nietzsche. And don't even get me started on McGinn. ;) (too soon?) Seriously though, the "miserable, neurotic philosopher" is such a familiar trope that it should worry us. What *grounds* do we have for thinking that philosophy (as it is too often done) improves human life? Indeed, to take the point further, consider this. How many moral arguments -- both in philosophy journals, but also discussions of gender equity on philosophy messageboards -- are carried on at such an abstract level that they seem to lack any semblance of humanity or compassion? (Too many, I would say). Or consider Charles Mills' point that generations of white male political philosophers have been utterly unable to see how ideals of "freedom and equality" serve, in practice, to *deny* people freedom and equality and serve entrenched interests (viz. "How dare you demand affirmative action after 150 years of mistreatment? That treats people *unequally*!"). As smart as the dominant (white male) philosophers may have been, their intuitions -- not to mention their focus on ideal theory -- led them to be more or less obtuse to the suffering and perspective of oppressed people in the real, nonideal world in which we live. (Rawls, for instance, discusses civil disobedience as an afterthought, and ignores most of nonideal theory. Nozick, similarly, sweeps away nonideal theory altogether, preferring to defend arguments about a libertarian utopia!).

Finally, it is not as though you will starve if you don't press the button (i.e. do philosophy). Ordinary people live perfectly happy lives without turning into Chmess Masters. However, you may *well* "starve" by doing bad philosophy. You may starve your soul, and you may well starve by never finishing your PhD or ending up in a horrific job market where you can never find a tenure track job.

Better, I dare say, to stay in the pit. Many people make nice homes down there. :)

Moti Mizrahi

Thanks for the clarification, Eric. I think I have said in my last comment why the "dominant strategy" argument is bad. It is a bad argument because we *should* give up if the (false) choice is between doing philosophy badly or not doing philosophy at all. If we *adopt* a bad method, we're simply fooling ourselves. That is why we need a reason to believe that the method we adopt is not a bad one. As far as the method of cases is concerned, not only do we not have reasons to believe that the method is not bad, but we have reasons to believe that it is bad.

Eric Morton

Well, OK, Marcus. :) I think that your most recent post gives the strongest case yet for thinking that perhaps we have antecedent practical reason to reject the intuition method. If I truly thought that not only does that method not have any epistemic justification, but that it is also highly likely to be practically harmful if dabbled with, then I would agree with you that it is no longer a dominant strategy. Because then we’d be in a position where we’re faced with either doing nothing and living our lives, or doing something highly likely to harm us. But I must admit that I’m not convinced by the narrative about how philosophy practiced in the Socratic manner is highly likely to harm us.

Moti: Thanks again for the reply. What you said in your last post and at the end of your previous post does answer the dominant strategy argument. It sounds to me that you are basically on-board with the argumentative line Marcus has been pressing. That even if it was our only method, it is such a bad method that doing nothing would be (practically speaking) better. So we do not have a practical justification to engage in it. Again, I’m not convinced that intuition-mongering is really all that bad for us, practically speaking. Nor am I convinced that it can never benefit us. However, I must (sheepishly) admit that I have not yet made time to read the papers you linked to above. Since I’ve found this to be a very interesting discussion, I think I’ll give them a read and see if you can convince me.

Marcus Arvan

Thanks, Eric. But what part of the narrative do you find unconvincing? I thought I gave a pretty good go at it! ;) Seriously though, I just gave a lot of evidence that intuition-based philosophy may -- and arguably has many times -- turned people into monsters. If that's right, *shouldn't* you be convinced? ;)

Marcus Arvan

Hi Mert: Thanks for your reply. Here are my thoughts:

(1) You write, "I'm curious if on your view there is anything the Tyrant could do that would make him a counterexample to Meno's definition?"

My answer: It takes a lot of argument -- far more than Socrates engages in. We need to think carefully about normativity, rationality, etc. This is my only point. Socrates gets Meno to give up his definition *far* too quickly, merely on the basis of an intuition rather than on the basis of any systematic theory of human behavior, normativity, etc., based on careful observation.

(2) You ask: "Marcus, when you say the case method is bad, do you mean the weaker claim that it is in general as likely to get you true beliefs as it is false beliefs, or do you mean the stronger claim that it is in general *more* likely to get you false beliefs than true ones?"

My answer: see my previous reply to Eric. In some cases, I think it is 50/50. In other cases, I think there are reasons to think intuition-based arguments are more likely to lead to false beliefs than true ones (and that careful analysis -- as well as history -- show this).

(3) You write: "Marcus, if your position is that we are in general justified appealing to intuitions about cases- as long we scrutinize them by appeal to "systematic accounts of *why* people have differing intuitions," then we agree. This is consistent with thinking that there is an over reliance on the case method, i.e. that they should be used less."

My answer: Yep, exactly. :)

Eric Morton

Marcus: Why am I not convinced by the narrative? That's a pretty good question. Well, my answer is that your narrative is basically a long string of anectodal cases being used to justify the belief that there is a causal connection between intuition-mongering and turning out to be a bad person. But that’s not very good evidence. And many of the cases are individually not convincing. Socrates is just too complex of a case for it to be clear that he was a bad monster of a guy rather than a paragon of integrity and critical thinking. And in any event, for many of the cases you cite, it seems quite plausible to suppose that the people would have turned out to be neurotic and unhappy and sometimes bad whether or not they practiced philosophy (in the intuition-mongering way). Say, if they had taken up physics or neuroscience or English or experimental philosophy. Let’s face it: if you looked at people with PhD’s generally, outside of philosophy, there are just as many of them that are maladjusted and bad. I assume that Amy Bishop at U. Alabama didn’t shoot her colleagues in the biology department because she had secretly been doing lots of thought experiments…. (I’m tempted to insert Colin McGinn here, but as you said it might be too soon).

And for every maladjusted philosopher you can provide me an example of, I’m sure there is at least one well-adjusted philosopher. My own personal experience of philosophers generally is that they tend to be fairly decent people all things considered; certainly no more flawed than people generally. Rawls was by all accounts a quite well-behaved and well-balanced, virtuous guy. So what if he wasn’t focused on ideal theory? He did quite a lot with the time he had. You can’t do it all in one lifetime. Basically the narrative has the same evidential weight as a case where someone gave me 10 names of famous literature professors who wrote about Proust and then ended up being unhappy or neurotic or mean. Would that be a good reason to think that writing about Proust is practically harmful?

Yes, philosophers talk about things in a very abstract way. Often the discussions seem pointless to outsiders. Our conversation here for example, has been pretty abstract and the point of it will be lost on many (“You mean you spent all afternoon arguing with a bunch of other philosophers that *if* there are no other methods then X Y Z follows, even though you don’t think it’s right that there are no other strategies?”). Does that mean we’re all bad guys and that its intuition mongering that has resulted in our being bad guys who are detached from reality? (Maybe! The pit and the elevator thought experiment is arguably an intuition pump trying to draw out the intuition that it is highly reasonable to adopt the dominant elevator strategy if you’re in that scenario). Seriously, though: weren’t you trying to invoke my intuitions about bad argumentation when you pointed out that Socrates is doing nothing but drawing out the untutored prejudices of his interlocutors? Be careful, Marcus: that’s the path to hell, man! :) Since what we’re talking about is a causal connection, I suppose what would convince me is an actual scientific study that successfully demonstrated a causal link between “practices philosophy in the intuition-mongering way” and “turns out to be a neurotic, bad, unhappy person.”

I also think that common-sensism (think G.E. Moore) is probably an antidote for the worry you bring up about the Socrates-going-to-his-death-because-of-philosophy phenomenon. A reflective equilibrium strategy (where we realize our conclusions may have gone off the rails, and perhaps we need to go back to adjust where we started from; the sort of thing Singer condemns as too conservative) is pretty sensible, I think.

Moti Mizrahi

Thanks, Eric. I am glad to hear you will be reading my papers.

Marcus Arvan

Eric: Thanks for your reply. I don't think my case is *merely* a string of anecdotal cases. Within the cases there is a particular pattern of thinking: namely, people thinking at such an abstract level that they become seemingly unable to interact with fellow human beings in a *human*, emotionally engaged manner.

I not only think it is prima facie likely that there is a causal connection between overly abstract thought and moral badness. There are some tentative empirical results indicating this (people with act-utilitarian intuitions, for instance, score higher on psychopathy measures -- and commit more crimes -- than people who do not have those intuitions). Finally, I actually am running a study on the causal connections now! So, I don't think the claims are just anecdotal. They are *partly* anecdotal for sure, but there's more to it than that.

Now let me reply to some of the specific claims you made.

You write: "Socrates is just too complex of a case for it to be clear that he was a bad monster of a guy rather than a paragon of integrity and critical thinking."

I reply: No doubt he was a complex guy. But someone who puts integrity and critical thinking over treating his wife in a humane way is...a monster. And most of my students initially react this way. They think Socrates is a big, self-entitled jerk who puts his own peace of mind in front of everyone else, and who walks around Greece humiliating people to make a point. Indeed, when we read the Apology, a good deal of my students are actually sympathetic with his accusers. Many of them appear pretty shocked that we, professional philosophers, heap all this adulation on Socrates. Could it be that *we* are so far down the rabbit hole of abstract thought that we are unable to see Socrates for what he was: a man who, yes, had integrity but insisted on putting philosophy in front of human beings and human feeling? I *used* to adore Socrates like most philosophers evidently do. I no longer do. Although I think there is a lot to be learned from him, I think the effects of his philosophy on his soul and demeanor are a refutation of it. And, I think Plato ultimately realized that too (see e.g., the Laws, where Plato abandons Socrates in favor of the unnamed Athenian, and basically rejects all of Socrates' simplistic rationalism in favor of a pretty thorough, and complex, empiricism!).

You write: "And in any event, for many of the cases you cite, it seems quite plausible to suppose that the people would have turned out to be neurotic and unhappy and sometimes bad whether or not they practiced philosophy (in the intuition-mongering way)."

I reply: I think there are many empirical reasons to believe there *is* a causal connection. Philosophy teaches people to think in incredibly abstract terms -- in terms of principles and categories. As such, it pretty much teaches us to avoid things like...human feeling. Consider moral philosophy. Almost *all* of it (besides Aristotle's doctrine of the mean and sentimentalism) is incredibly rationalistic. Socrates said reason should rule. Kant said the same thing. Etc. And what does thinking in such terms do? It fosters an attitude that feelings are irrelevant, and that we should think in cold, dispassionate terms. Which is how psychopaths think.

Oh, and consider Wittgenstein, for example. I read Ray Monk's biography of him recently. Early in his life, he appeared to be a pretty well-adjusted dude. By all accounts, he was a pretty nice kid. Then he flew to England to meet Russell, began studying philosophy, and became a narcissistic egomaniac. Coincidence?

You write: "And for every maladjusted philosopher you can provide me an example of, I’m sure there is at least one well-adjusted philosopher. My own personal experience of philosophers generally is that they tend to be fairly decent people all things considered; certainly no more flawed than people generally."

I write: I doubt this. There is a reason "miserable, neurotic philosopher" is such a familiar trope. I've heard many professional philosophers remark on just how miserable and neurotic we are as a class of people. Not all of us, to be sure. But many. But you are right. We need to study this empirically -- and I hope to soon! Finally, if philosophers aren't any *better* off than other people, my case for remaining in the pit still holds.

You write: "Rawls was by all accounts a quite well-behaved and well-balanced, virtuous guy."

I reply: Yes, but Rawls was also a very religious fellow (which most philosophers are not), and I think religious practice emphasizes feeling in a way philosophy does not. Rawls was also a good deal less rationalistic in many respects than many philosophers (he attempted to found his theory of justice in a "conversation model" of justification -- basing a theory in overlapping consensus -- rather than an intuition-based one).

You write: "Since what we’re talking about is a causal connection, I suppose what would convince me is an actual scientific study that successfully demonstrated a causal link between “practices philosophy in the intuition-mongering way” and “turns out to be a neurotic, bad, unhappy person.”"

I write: I'm doing such a study. :)

Finally, you write: "A reflective equilibrium strategy (where we realize our conclusions may have gone off the rails, and perhaps we need to go back to adjust where we started from; the sort of thing Singer condemns as too conservative) is pretty sensible, I think."

I write: I agree. :)

Eric Morton

Marcus, thanks for the reply. What you say is interesting and provocative, as usual. :) I have many things to say in response, but time won't allow for more than this brief comment today. My schedule will be a lot more relaxed tomorrow.

Eric Morton

Marcus, again, sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you with a substantive reply. I found your reply thought-provoking and refreshing in its unusualness (not that your posts aren’t usually thought provoking or refreshing; I just mean to emphasize that your pessimistic way of thinking about philosophy is quite against the mainstream – as you know). I wasn’t much convinced by what you said, but I took what you said seriously and wanted to try to give you an adequate explanation of why I don’t agree. And because you’ve widened your scope from a simple attack on the case/intuition method to a broad attack on the practical effects of philosophy (as it has been practiced) generally, I’ve had quite a lot to think over. Accordingly, this reply is a little bit unseemly in its length. Apologies. Most of what I say here is a response to your pessimism about philosophy’s effects generally (since I see myself as a defender of the tradition on this point I hope you won’t take what I say too personally). Anyone interested only in the “In the Pit” discussion about the case/intuition method should just skip to the last couple of paragraphs.

You write: “I don't think my case is *merely* a string of anecdotal cases.” I don’t know, Marcus, it sort of appears to me that it really is. With only a few exceptions, your reply struck me as the sort of thing a person in the grips of a conspiracy theory might present to support their view. Each piece of your case is something that permits of some other more plausible interpretation. You made some observations about Wittgenstein and then wrapped it up with “Coincidence?” My child got inoculated and 3 months later was diagnosed with autism. Coincidence? (That’s just an example, I don’t really have any children). The answer to both question is: Yes. It really could be. Because X happened then Y happened isn’t really good reason for believing X caused Y. It isn’t really any justification for the claim that it wasn’t coincidence. What you have that separates you from the standard conspiracy theory advocate is an unsubstantiated theory that the one thing causes the other (that rationalistic philosophy causes moral badness). No wait. That’s exactly what the conspiracy theorist has. Seriously, though, what you do have that the conspiracy theorist doesn’t have is a recognition that your claim of a causal connection is all just hunches until a credible study is done establishing such a connection. So I’m glad to hear that you’re working on the study. However, as I’ll explain, I have a tough time believing that you’re going to establish that that particular cause does cause that particular effect, because I don’t even have the hunch that the effect exists.

The first problem with your cases is that *none* of them is even a clear case of badness. Kant, Socrates, Wittgenstein. None of these counts as a clear case of a bad person. Kant for example. He may have had all sorts of far out philosophical beliefs about ethics (and other things). But I think that that has no tendency whatsoever to make him a bad person. Let’s throw Bentham into the mix: he may have had many mistaken or problematic ideas when it comes to his philosophical thinking about ethics, but is having mistaken beliefs about ethics enough to make a person a bad person? A monster? I think that that is far from clear. Wittgenstein may have had all sorts of negative personality quirks. Does that make him a bad person? Not necessarily. Socrates: yes you can tell a story about how Socrates was treating his wife terribly. But there are many other possibilities. Maybe his wife supported his decision. Maybe she respected what he was doing even though she knew they would be parted. Maybe she would have been ashamed for him if he had done otherwise. Maybe they knew that at his advanced age he was likely to become a burden to her and wanted to free her (for the sake of their children!) to move on with her life while she was still young and healthy enough. Him being willing to die for what he believed in is nowhere near enough to establish that he was any sort of bad person, let alone a monster.

Secondly, though, even if any of these guys are bad, or even if there are lots of bad philosophers around – lots of really emotionless psychotic types – what we don’t know is whether they’re being made into such emotionless monsters by philosophy, or whether there is a self-selection process going on where they go into philosophy because they already have such personalities (or already have a predisposition to manifest such personalities). In any event, as I’ll explain, I don’t really think for a minute that there are more neurotic philosophers than there are neurotic physicians or neurotic mathematicians.

You write: “There is a reason "miserable, neurotic philosopher" is such a familiar trope.” I reply: I really don’t think there is any such familiar trope. In fact I’m *certain* that such a trope isn’t familiar to me. I have never heard anyone, *ever* make such remarks. I must admit truthfully to you that you are the first person I’ve ever heard make any such claim. Of course when I was in graduate school there were many such remarks about neurotic miserable graduate students generally. But being a graduate student and dealing with those dynamics is bound to turn people a little neurotic. The graduate students of philosophy were no more neurotic than the graduate students of political science, German, English, microbiology… Of course, as I said, I think academics in general have some tendency to be a little neurotic. But overall I don’t think any worse than most people in terms of neurosis. There are lots of neurotic people in the world. And I suspect that even if there is any such trope circulating amongst some philosophers (I trust you that you have at least had some such conversations), there are probably similar tropes circulating amongst mathematicians about the miserable neurotic mathematician, etc. (biologists, English professors, physicians, lawyers, etc. etc. etc.).

You explain that you think that there is a problem with philosophy: because of its emphasis on abstraction and reason, and its emphasis on setting aside emotion, it has a tendency to make us cold, emotionless, and emotionally disengaged from our fellow man. I think that you’re probably right that philosophy does have a tendency to make us downplay the importance of emotion. And I think that the negative effects of that are vanishingly small. While the *positive* effects of that are *enormous*. I think we live in a society and a world where people in general are unable to reason well because they allow emotions to play a role they aren’t suited to play. They are driven by emotions. And not all of those emotions are good ones. Not only are they driven by love, but by fear, and by hatred, and by disgust. The person who comes to the conclusion that they shouldn’t have their child inoculated may indeed be deeply moved by love (for their child) and fear (for their child; fear of modern science and modern medicine), and it may (and often does) make them unable and unwilling to look at the evidence dispassionately. People can have a great deal of emotional attachment to “the way we’ve always done things” or to “the good old days when *those* people knew their place.” And I think it would be a *very* good thing if they could set aside such emotions a little bit and think with something a little bit more closely approximating pure reason. Sadly, philosophy does not have nearly as much impact in dampening reliance upon emotion as I would like. But insofar as it teaches a person to recognize fallacies as fallacies (whatever their emotions may be), then I think it’s a good thing. So, not only do I think that philosophy tends to have no negative emotionally dampening effect on those who practice it, I think that in general it has a *very positive* emotionally dampening effect on those who practice it. You write something along the lines of: Emotional detachment! That’s a property of psychopaths! Yes, but it’s also a property of Buddhist and Stoic sages. In some cases *extreme* emotional detachment can be bad (if you’re detaching yourself entirely from positive emotions) and in some cases it could be good (if you’re detaching yourself entirely from negative emotions). In any event, I don’t think that there is any evidence that philosophy generally results in *extreme* emotional detachment one way or the other. And, as I’ve said, I think that the modicum of emotional detachment philosophy encourages is usually a *very* good corrective to the natural human tendency of emotionally-immersed reasoning.

Additionally, all of the material I’ve been responding to so far (all of your arguments about emotional detachment, etc.) is completely detached from whether the intuition pump method is itself bad. Even if I granted everything you said about rationalist philosophy having this awful tendency, there is nothing inherent in the intuition pump/case method that requires someone to adopt any such Socratic attitude toward emotions. One can clearly imagine a philosopher (perhaps a philosophy student in the distant future) saying: “I was re-reading a work by Marcus Arvan in my Philosophical Classics text (by Cahn, etc., 112th edition). I think everything he wrote about emotion is right on target. But I think you can agree that emotion is important in philosophy and also think the intuition/case method is a good one to use generally. You just have to be on guard against any possible emotional dampening. But of course you have to be on guard against that when you’re doing experimental philosophy, mainstream Arvanian intuition-genealogy, or any other kind of philosophy.” :)

You wrote: “Finally, if philosophers aren't any *better* off than other people, my case for remaining in the pit still holds.”
I think though that if we return to the case of Meno on virtue, your case for remaining in the pit will be found to be unsound. If you grant (as you did) that Meno has learned something or gained some benefit (say, he realizes that his belief about virtue doesn’t hang together with his background belief that tyrants aren’t virtuous), then it’s possible that someone who engages in the case/intuition method is better off. I think we should grant that we don’t know that the Socratic/case/intuition method produces any truth. I this Moti is right to point out that we don’t know whose intuitions are right when people disagree. I think it obvious that these methods can only produce consistency and coherence within an individual. But consistency and coherence are good things. If we have incoherent beliefs, and if the case/intuition method can help us not have incoherence to such a degree (it can show us not which belief to revise, but that our web of beliefs is in need of some revision) then it is a practical benefit to engage in that method. And *if* that were the only method, then we’d be practically justified in trying it versus the “assume everything is fine and live our lives in ignorance/give-up” strategy.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Eric: Thanks for your awesome, and challenging, reply! I realize I am out of the mainstream on this, and, truth be told, I've probably overplayed my hand here a bit. It would be more correct to say that I have these *worries* about the effects that certain approaches to philosophy -- (1) overly rationalistic approaches, and (2) overly intuition-based approaches -- may have on a person's soul. You are perfectly right that, at this point, it is mostly a hunch. But it is a hunch that I think philosophers should take more seriously than they appear to do, and investigate with empirical care.

Here, in brief, is why. For most of my professional career, I was on your side -- the dominant side -- on this. I adored Socrates, for instance, as well as Kant, Wittgenstein, etc. And, in some respects, I still do. That being said, a few things happened to me. First, I had a female student point out to me all the ways in which Socrates seemed to *her* to be a monster, and I had a kind of "gestalt shift." My god, I thought to myself, he kind of *is*. What kind of person would spend their dying moments doing metaphysics with dudes and send his wife off like yesterday's trash? A person, I thought, who -- for all his critical thinking and integrity -- has lost his *humanity*. And it occurred to me that I thought I see similar things a lot in academic philosophical thought (and philosophy blogs!): a lot of "critical thinking" with very little heart.

Critical thinking, as you note, is indeed an important antidote to unrestrained emotionality. But, I say, it can be taken too far. Morality is a matter of cultivating the *right* kinds of emotions, not disregarding them altogether. And I fear -- when I look at how philosophy is too often done -- that it often serves to completely subsume emotional, good human reactions in favor of (what seem to me) to be monstrously cold ways of thinking.

All of this, again, is just a hunch. But I still think it is a hunch worth investigating much more. When my student pointed out all of the ways in which Socrates seems a monster -- again, what kind of human being has his *wife* shuttled away to keep his peace of mind? -- it suddenly struck me that I had never heard a professional philosopher say anything of the sort. It is as though our fetishizing of critical thinking has blinded us to character faults that -- to ordinary people (such as my students) -- are obvious!

Regardless of whether my hunch is correct, I think this is something to worry about. But, I can tell, I am fighting a losing battle. Maybe the empirical studies I am working on will help. Or maybe they will show I'm barking up the wrong tree. I'll be happy to learn the truth, either way! (Again, I'm not wedded to the worries I'm raising. They're really just bothersome thoughts I've had lately, coming in part from thinking about historical figures, but also behavior on philosophy blogs, scandals in our discipline, etc. Oh, and FWIW, I don't know of *any* academic discipline that has had so many sexual scandals as us, nor so many people engaging in mental acrobatics with respect to thinking about it). ;)

So, I guess I don't have a refutation for your current post. I accept your worries. Well, all except for one. If we cannot agree that Wittgenstein was a pretty bad dude all around, then I guess I don't know what to say. I've read a lot of biographies, and known a lot of people, and I have to say...Wittgenstein appears to have treated just about everyone in his life -- particularly those with personal attachments to him -- with a profound amount of callousness and disrespect. I admire his passion for philosophy, but from what I know of how he lived his life and treated other people, he is at best a genius who deserves forgiveness for many grave wrongs.

Eric Morton

Well, to be honest, I do agree that Wittgenstein was probably pretty intolerable and that he’s surely the best case amongst the lot for someone who was highly neurotic. This is just speculation, but some of this may have been caused by deep insecurity and feelings of repression; I understand that its probable that Wittgenstein was gay, and he lived in a pretty intolerant time and place; I can imagine that someone with a reputation for brilliance like he had could easily lash out at others if they were in a constant state of emotional insecurity…

Also, thanks for your narrative about the reaction of your students to Socrates and how that got you thinking. I’ve had my students bring that up too, and I usually entertain that for a few minutes, but then I press on with trying to get them to see the value of the examined life. I should probably consider it further. And I think you’re right that philosophy as an antidote to unrestrained emotionality can be taken too far. In reminding us of that I think you do a service. Most of us never think of Socrates critically (except when we’re reading or teaching Nietzsche).

Jennifer Nagel

Hi guys. Sorry just to be catching this now. Moti's initial characterization of my argument wasn't right. In saying that we don't have to sterilize the tools before we use them, I meant that we don't need to find out about the precise details of every limitation of the intuitive method before making some use of intuitions in philosophy, any more than we need to find out about all the limitations of vision before making use of visual observations in figuring out the lay of the land (Wesley Buckwalter's comment was right on the mark, thanks Wesley). I didn't mean that the method of intuition came pre-sterilized or guaranteed never to mislead, and I certainly didn't say that the method of intuition is our only available method in philosophy. My work on intuition has pretty consistently emphasized that intuitive judgments are one source of evidence for us, alongside the use of formal methods, data from other sciences, etc., etc. I don't myself see how we can get along in epistemology while denying ourselves the use of the intuitive method altogether. Even those who have been pretty critical of the use of intuitions have allowed that in at least some areas of philosophy they seem indispensable -- e.g. Jonathan Weinberg allows that intuitions are vital in confirmation theory, if I recall correctly. I do think that those who want to argue that we should not rely on intuitive methods in epistemology more broadly I think owe us a story about what better methods they have up their sleeves. I might not think that if I were very pessimistic about there being any effective methods available at all, but I see no good reasons for such pessimism.

It's possible to advocate skepticism, or suggest that we can never make progress in epistemology, but I don't think any good reasons have been given for that kind of despair (it's certainly not an insurmountable problem that different people can fill in the details of cases differently). In characterizing intuition as a tool or ladder I did mean to be suggesting that it's something we pre-theoretically recognize as helpful. I don't think we start from a position of having no idea whatsoever whether intuition should even count as a tool or not, whether it is a (perhaps somewhat dirty) ladder or a zany elevator that has an equal chance of leading up or down. Intuitive judgments about what others know and believe are part of the ordinary fabric of daily life, and our ordinary trust in them is reasonably well confirmed before we start to do epistemology in a systematic way. Systematic epistemology does I think end up showing that some of our natural intuitive impressions about knowledge are mistaken, but we don't have to know in advance exactly where these weak spots are. Systematic epistemology enables us to construct a sharper picture of the nature of knowledge, and it also enables us to gain a deeper understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of our natural mechanisms for tracking knowledge in the world.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Jennifer: Thanks for weighing in.

You write, "Intuitive judgments about what others know and believe are part of the ordinary fabric of daily life, and our ordinary trust in them is reasonably well confirmed before we start to do epistemology in a systematic way."

It is precisely the second part of this statement that I am not convinced of. I do not think we have any general reason to trust "what we and others know and believe"...at least not when it comes to controversial philosophical issues.

So, for instance -- to take just one example -- I think a lot of moral philosophy is based on presupposing that ordinary people's moral beliefs have some (epistemic) justification. I do not think, after more careful examination (of the nature of normativity), that this can be presupposed. There are too many deep philosophical reasons to doubt whether people's moral beliefs have justification. Thus, I think it is wrong to trust "what ordinary people believe and know" in this domain -- and that far, far too much moral philosophy gets off on the wrong, completely unjustified foot by doing what your remark suggests.

The same goes, I think, for metaphysics. Philosophical speculation about metaphysics -- at least, some areas of it -- on the basis of what "ordinary people believe and know" has been falsified time and again by empirical physics (see e.g. absolute space and time, etc.).

So, I say, we *do* need to do systematic thinking before we trust what ordinary people believe and "know."

Eric Morton

Hello and welcome to the pit, Jennifer.

Marcus, you object to this statement by Jennifer (or at least the last part of it): “Intuitive judgments about what others know and believe are part of the ordinary fabric of daily life, and our ordinary trust in them is reasonably well confirmed before we start to do epistemology in a systematic way.“

Look at it this way: when I was replying to you earlier, I had relied on my intuitive judgment that you would know who Meno is, and that you’d be familiar with that dialogue (that you would believe that they talked about virtue). That was confirmed when our conversation did not suddenly break down, and instead you launched into a counterattack that showed that you were indeed knowledgeable about that topic.

I think the point was (or should have been) that reliance on intuition is a method that we carry over from everyday life – and in everyday life it is overwhelmingly useful and effective (indeed, absolutely indispensable). It is, as Jennifer said: “something we pre-theoretically recognize as helpful.” I don’t think the point was that we can trust what ordinary people think and believe. I think the “our trust in them” in Jennifer’s conjunction is our trust in our own intuitive judgments about what other people believe, not our trust that they really know what they think they know.

Marcus Arvan

Eric: Notice that I did not say that we should never appeal to intuitions about what ordinary people know or believe. I only said we should not do this on philosophically controversial *issues* (viz. the nature of space & time, morality, etc.).

In the context of our conversation, our common beliefs/knowledge about Meno were *not* a philosophical issue (we were not debating whether Meno is composed by the atoms that make up his body, personal identity, or whatever).

I do not deny that common beliefs or knowledge are helpful in ordinary contexts (for engaging in practical action, etc.). I *do* deny that common beliefs are "helpful" when doing philosophy. I think they often mislead, and that far too much philosophy takes certain common beliefs as given when, on deeper examination, they're entirely without warrant -- and that the attitude, "We should begin with common beliefs and intuitions" fosters this mistake.

Eric Morton

Marcus: OK, that helps a lot. Now I understand more clearly what you mean.

So back to the pit: You’re in a pit with an elevator. You know that in everyday life elevators are useful for situations like this. Whenever you use an elevator in everyday life it seems to help you achieve what you want. And no terrible elevator-related tragedies tend to befall you. You do have reason to believe that there are some wonky-weird elevators. Those elevators often harm people who attempt to use them. And those wonky-weird elevators do happen to be in pits. Of course, you don’t know what percentage of the pit elevators are the wonky weird ones. But you know of and could cite lots of pit-elevators that you’ve heard of that turned out to be the wonky ones. If there was no other method to get out of the pit, wouldn’t you want to try the elevator, since you come into the pit knowing that elevators tend to help, and that this might very well be one of the helpful elevators? Would it be better to do nothing and give up trying to get out of the pit? (I'm tempted to throw in here how sad your wife would be never to see you again, and how heartless and cold it would be of you to rely on a cold emotionless philosophical argument even though it meant giving up on any chance of seeing her again. You monster!). ;)

Marcus Arvan

Eric: an analogy. I do not need to sterilize my silverware prior to supper. I sure as heck should sterilize my tools prior to surgery. Just as a scientist should use sound methods for science, we should use sound methods for philosophy. And there are many, many reasons to believe that common sense beliefs on controversial philosophical issues may be unreliable. Just as no self-respecting scientist would say we should just use whatever tools are "intuitive", neither should we do so in philosophy. We should question common sense at the outset, not assume it is likely to be correct for the sake of moving forward. If humans were able to get this basic point through our thick skulls earlier, it wouldn't have taken a genius like Einstein to figure out that space and time are relative. The relativity of space and time follow straightforwardly from the fact that the speed of light is equivalent in all reference frames. Many people (e.g. Poincare, Mach, etc.) knew of this equivalence before he did, they just refused to entertain or accept the implications because it conflicted with the "common sense", "obvious" truth that space and time must be absolute.

By a similar token, I think generations of philosophers of language have falsely assumed that proper names must have "a meaning" rather than simply a plurality of meanings. I don't think this "commonsense" belief or intuition bears any resemblance to how human beings actually behave or process meaning. By assuming that the proper question is, "What is the meaning of proper names?", we began with the wrong question. The question should have been: how do human beings process and deploy proper names? Is there one meaning, or many? Here again, commonsense intuition led (in my view) down a blind alley -- no less than the blind alley of absolute space and time.

Marcus Arvan

Eric: I would deny your first claim, viz. that I know in everyday life that elevators work in cases "like this."

The cases are entirely different. Contrast (1) ordinary practical life, versus (2) theoretical science and philosophy.

They are *very* different domains, just like eating dinner and doing surgery are different types of domains. What works for dinner (not sterilizing utensils) does *not* work in surgery.

One can (and does) get along fine enough in life -- at least for the most part -- without using careful methods. One does *not* get alone fine enough in philosophy or science without using careful methods.

Another analogy: Assuming something false (viz. the world is flat) needn't affect my life very much. Assuming the *same* false thing in philosophy or science is a disaster...as the aim of science and philosophy are quite different (they are not simply to "get around the world well enough", but rather, to understand TRUTH).

Also, I'm not a monster, I promise! :)

Moti Mizrahi

Hi Jennifer, thanks very much for your comment and welcome to the pit. I apologize for getting your argument wrong. As I understand your comment, however, you still accept the first premise of the “We Don’t Have to Sterilize the Tools before We Use Them” Argument, which was the major point of contention throughout the discussion here.

In any case, allow me to respond to your points in order.

You write: “In saying that we don't have to sterilize the tools before we use them, I meant that we don't need to find out about the precise details of every limitation of the intuitive method before making some use of intuitions in philosophy, any more than we need to find out about all the limitations of vision before making use of visual observations in figuring out the lay of the land.”

Reply: Even in the case of vision, there are circumstances in which we should not rely on vision alone, such as illusions and hallucinations. So we need a good reason to think that intuition pumps are not such circumstances.

You write: “I didn't mean that the method of intuition came pre-sterilized or guaranteed never to mislead.”

Reply: The problem with the method of cases is not that it *sometimes* leads to false beliefs. Rather, the problem with the method of cases is that competent users of the method (e.g., professional philosophers) get inconsistent results when they apply it. The users are equally competent, but the results are inconsistent, and there is no independent way of telling which results are the correct ones.

You write: “I certainly didn't say that the method of intuition is our only available method in philosophy. My work on intuition has pretty consistently emphasized that intuitive judgments are one source of evidence for us, alongside the use of formal methods, data from other sciences, etc., etc. I don't myself see how we can get along in epistemology while denying ourselves the use of the intuitive method altogether. Even those who have been pretty critical of the use of intuitions have allowed that in at least some areas of philosophy they seem indispensable.”

Reply: I think that there are several inconsistent claims here.

(a) It is not the case that the method of cases is the only method.
(b) There are sources of evidence other than intuitions.
(c) We cannot get along without the method of cases.
(d) Appealing to intuitions is indispensable.

First, if (a) and (b) are true, then why is it that we cannot get along without the method of cases? Similarly, if (a) and (b) are true, then why is it that appealing to intuitions is indispensable? On the other hand, if (c) and (d) are true, then how can there be other methods or sources of evidence?

You write: “I do think that those who want to argue that we should not rely on intuitive methods in epistemology more broadly I think owe us a story about what better methods they have up their sleeves.”

Reply: This gets the burden of proof wrong. If one wants to use a method, the burden of proof is on one to show that it is a good method. When Galileo used his telescope to observe the heavens, he had to convince his contemporaries that the telescope is a reliable instrument of celestial observation.

Even if you are right about the burden of proof, in the main post I have linked to posts where I discuss alternative methods. And Marcus has commented about alternative methods in this thread as well.

You write: “It's possible to advocate skepticism, or suggest that we can never make progress in epistemology, but I don't think any good reasons have been given for that kind of despair (it's certainly not an insurmountable problem that different people can fill in the details of cases differently).”

Reply: Could you please say why you think that? Saying that a problem is not insurmountable, of course, is not the same as actually giving a solution to that problem.

You write: “In characterizing intuition as a tool or ladder I did mean to be suggesting that it's something we pre-theoretically recognize as helpful.”

Reply: All this talk about intuitions being “useful,” “helpful,” “pre-theoretically trustworthy,” etc. is distracting. As Marcus pointed out, we are talking about an area of inquiry here. Since the method of cases is supposed to be a method of inquiry used by a formal discipline, the only thing that matters is whether that method is likely to yield truths more often than not. Since there are good reasons to believe that the method of cases is systematically misleading and untrustworthy (see papers linked to in the main post), it is time to abandon it. To say “yes, the method of cases is systematically misleading and untrustworthy but it can still be useful” is NOT good enough. Anyone who want to take this line must show why and how it is useful *as a method of inquiry* (i.e., in terms of reliably leading to truths).

Moti Mizrahi

Eric, thanks for coming back to the discussion.

To characterize your judgment that Marcus probably knows who Meno is as “intuitive” is a bit of a stretch. After all, you know that Marcus is a professional philosopher (and a good one, too). From this, it is reasonable to *infer* that Marcus probably knows who Meno is. Whatever intuitions are, they are supposed to be non-inferential. So you didn’t intuit that Marcus knows who Meno is. Rather, you probably inferred it from what you know about Marcus.

As for the point that “reliance on intuition is a method that we carry over from everyday life,” I don’t think many would want to take this line. If that’s all we do in philosophy, then what is it that philosophers *add* to what ordinary people already do *well* on their own?

Jennifer Nagel

Hi Moti,

There's no inconsistency in saying that the intuitive method is indispensable in epistemology, and also that it's not our only method. Other methods just provide useful checks on intuition: we can build models in epistemic logic, for example, to test the consequences of various rival theories that have partial intuitive support, but without some intuitive input, formal models are empty.

You write: "the problem with the method of cases is that competent users of the method (e.g., professional philosophers) get inconsistent results when they apply it. The users are equally competent, but the results are inconsistent, and there is no independent way of telling which results are the correct ones." It's true that sometimes people have different intuitions on cases, just as people have different sensory experiences, some of which are ultimately best explained as observational errors or systematic illusions. But I find it interesting that on a lot of the hard cases epistemologists with opposed views share the same basic intuitions: I'm not at all a contextualist, for example, but I totally get the intuitions motivating contextualism (and so do the majority of the laypeople we've tested). It's true that different philosophers are coming up with different theories on open questions (that's what open questions look like, in any discipline). And we may indeed lack an independent way to adjudicate between these theories, if by "independent" you mean free from all reliance on intuition, just as we lack a way to adjudicate between scientific theories that is independent from perceptual observation. The lesson from that is not that we should attempt to free ourselves from reliance on perceptual observation (or intuition), but that we should make intelligent use of it.

What do we add to what ordinary people already do well on their own? I try to work towards developing a systematic, explicit, internally consistent and objectively valid theory of abstracta such as knowledge and justification. I haven't seen a way to do this without some use of intuition, but if you've got some other way, go for it.

Moti Mizrahi

Thanks very much for the reply, Jennifer.

You write: “Other methods just provide useful checks on intuition.”

Reply: If we need to appeal to other sources of evidence as checks on intuition, then why appeal to intuitions at all? Why not cut the middleman and appeal directly to those other sources of evidence?

You write: "It's true that sometimes people have different intuitions on cases, just as people have different sensory experiences, some of which are ultimately best explained as observational errors or systematic illusions. But I find it interesting that on a lot of the hard cases epistemologists with opposed views share the same basic intuitions.”

Reply: Since the issue is the reliability of the method of cases as a method of inquiry, it does not matter that some philosophers share the same intuitions about some cases. What matters is that there are *typically* other philosophers who don’t.

You write: “we may indeed lack an independent way to adjudicate between these theories, if by ‘independent’ you mean free from all reliance on intuition, just as we lack a way to adjudicate between scientific theories that is independent from perceptual observation. The lesson from that is not that we should attempt to free ourselves from reliance on perceptual observation (or intuition), but that we should make intelligent use of it.”

Reply: The analogy to science is not quite right here. Of course, in some sense, we take our perceptual abilities for granted when we do science. When we engage in scientific inquiry, however, observational evidence is usually obtained by indirect means, i.e., instrumentally mediated. Scientific conclusions that are based on such observational evidence, then, are arrived at via complex chains of reasoning that contain auxiliary hypotheses about the reliability of scientific instruments of observation. But these auxiliary hypotheses are typically not just taken for granted (as mentioned above, a case in point is Galileo and the telescope). So, if we are to draw any analogies with science here, then the method of cases is analogous to scientific instruments of observation, not simply perception.

You write: “I haven't seen a way to do this without some use of intuition, but if you've got some other way, go for it.”

Reply: I am all for methodological pluralism. But that is not the issue here. The issue is a method that is systematically misleading and with a bad track record of almost nothing but disagreements.

Eric Morton

Marcus: Thanks for the replies.

Regarding the pit: You write that you don’t know that elevators tend to work in pit-cases. But you have heard of cases where the elevators in pits seem to work OK. Your friend Meno took a pit-elevator once, and he turned out just fine (Meno gets added consistency and coherence, and is benefitted in at least some slight practical ways, we agreed), etc.

Regarding surgery and silverware:, you write: “They are *very* different domains, just like eating dinner and doing surgery are different types of domains. What works for dinner (not sterilizing utensils) does *not* work in surgery.” But it *would* work for surgery if there were no other methods/tools available: Imagine you are a surgeon. You realize that someone is dying in front of you, and will die momentarily unless you do an emergency tracheotomy on them. You have no sterilized surgical equipment. Only a rusty, dirty exacto-knife that you found in the bottom of a trash-can at a gas station. No time to sterilize. The best you can do is spit on the blade and wipe it on your pants to get off the filthiest bits. Then you reflect: what should I do? I can use this exacto-knife, and risk harming the patient (infection, etc.), or I can just let the person die (since I don’t have my medical bag full of sterilized tools): after all, I went to medical school at XYZ! I have my dignity to think of! No self-respecting physician would operate with just whatever happened to be on hand! Yes, yes I hear you saying: these cases are not analogous, since if I stop doing philosophy nobody dies. But my point is just that if there is nothing else to do but try, and if the goal is a worthy one, and if the results of trying can’t be worse than the results of not trying, we might as well try. If we start off with ignorance and probably lots of incoherence, and we end up with ignorance and more coherence, won’t we be a little better off?
(What I'm interested in resisting is the claim you and Moti were pressing that if the method were the only one we had, we'd be better to give up and do nothing).

Eric Morton

Moti: Welcome back to the conversation, yourself ;) I thought you had left Marcus and I to our lonesome here. But I see now why that was…

I never heard you chime in on the issue of whether you agreed that the method could help to produce consistency within the beliefs of an individual. And whether that would be a positive thing for that individual. Now I think I understand why. You wrote: “Since the method of cases is supposed to be a method of inquiry used by a formal discipline, the only thing that matters is whether that method is likely to yield truths more often than not.”

This helps me understand where you’re coming from (and why you seem to take references to practical benefit or harm to be off-topic; and why you objected so much to the ‘dominant strategy’ line I was pressing above), but I don’t think I agree with you on this. And this seems pretty fundamental to the way you’re approaching this issue. If the question is whether philosophers should be adopting the method, then that’s a practical question. It’s not purely a theoretical question about whether that method would yield more truth if a formal discipline adopted it. And if something is useful for a philosopher (say, that *individual* philosopher gains something practically useful, like more consistency in their web of beliefs) then they’d be justified in employing it. You wrote: “To say ‘yes, the method of cases is systematically misleading and untrustworthy but it can still be useful’ is NOT good enough. Anyone who want to take this line must show why and how it is useful *as a method of inquiry*.” I disagree on this point.

Additionally, though, Jennifer seems to provide a nice way of thinking about things, and the use that a formal discipline might want to make of the case method even if it helps produce no reliable truths: it could help in “developing a systematic, explicit, internally consistent and objectively valid theory of abstracta…” I claim that if that’s all the method could help us do, it would still be worthwhile.

Eric Morton

Moti: I think I can put what I’m saying in a much more conciliatory way (so as to accentuate the places where you and I do agree): *If* I thought that philosophy was merely another formal discipline concerned with yielding truth, and *if* I thought that the intuition/case method was the only method available, then I would agree that we’d be better to just give up and do something else.

Moti Mizrahi

Hi Eric, I took a chance on a busted elevator and, whad’ya know, it got me out of the pit. :)

You make an interesting point about the method of cases, namely, that appealing to intuitions can produce more consistency in one’s web of belief. Unfortunately, I am not sure I buy this claim. First, I see no evidence for it at all. When I look at the historical record of philosophy, it looks like the method of cases has produced almost nothing but discord, not consistency.

Second, it is not clear to me that appeals to intuition can even do that. After all, when one appeals to intuition, one takes the fact that it seems to one that p as evidence for p. Now, if it also seems to one that not-q, then p and q could be inconsistent despite appearances. Even if it seems to one that q, p and q could still be inconsistent, appearances notwithstanding. So how can appeals to intuition show that p and q are inconsistent?

Finally, private (therapeutic, if you will, apropos Wittgenstein) benefits are nice. But what do they have to do with truth? I thought that we philosophers are concerned with truth (e.g., Does God exist? What is consciousness? What can we know? etc.). If not truth, then what are we after?

Eric Morton

Moti: Reading your papers. They are really interesting and stimulating. I like them a lot. So nice work! :) Anyway, though: the issue you point out and set aside in footnote 1 of your Review of P&P paper (the nature of intuitions) is probably (or at least might be) important for what I was urging about consistency. I’ve been treating intuitions as doxastic (as background, inexplicit beliefs). If they are doxastic then the intuition pump method can perhaps draw them out and show that they’re not consistent with other beliefs, and so give us an incentive to adopt new beliefs (or to think hard about matters and reject what we were intuitively inclined to say). If they aren’t doxastic then I’m not quite sure where that leaves me. If they’re pre-doxastic then I guess that leaves me in something like the same place: I can endorse them and form a belief that things are as they seem to be, then realize that something follows from that and change my web of beliefs accordingly, or I can refuse to endorse the intuition, not form a belief that things are as they seem, and stick with my old belief web. If intuitions are doxastic then they’re something already built into our extended web of beliefs, and unearthing them so they can be scrutinized is something useful. If they aren’t doxastic then they’re not part of our extended web of beliefs. So then it makes more sense to just recommend ignoring them and moving on to new tasks (after all, why incorporate new beliefs that are not likely to be true?). Of course, what I was just saying about non-doxastic intuitions won’t be quite right if we don’t really have the freedom to withhold our belief (if we’re involuntarily saddled with beliefs after things seem to us a certain way).

Moti Mizrahi

Eric: Thanks very much for reading my papers and for your kind words.

I don’t doubt that “the intuition pump method can perhaps draw [intuitions] out” insofar as one can consider a hypothetical case C and have an intellectual appearance as if p in response to C. But I do doubt that the method of cases can “show that [intuitions are] not consistent with other beliefs.” Here is why. On the one hand, if one has an intellectual appearance as if p, then one would not believe that not-p, since not-p would not seem true to one. On the other hand, if one believes that p, then one would not have an intellectual appearance as if not-p, since p seems true to one. This is why it is not clear to me that the method of cases itself can expose inconsistencies in one’s web of beliefs.

In other words, even if the method of cases can be used to “unearth” intuitions, it cannot be used to scrutinize them. To scrutinize intuitions, we need a method other than and independent of the method of cases. The reason for this may have something to do with a point you mention at the end of your comment. That is, although beliefs may be voluntary, intellectual appearances (just as perceptual appearances) are not.

Eric Morton

Moti, I was just getting ready to post you something (regarding what we could be doing other than just pursuing truth), when I saw your new reply. Since this seems important, I’ll reply to your newest on helping regarding consistency.

I think you’re right that if one had a background belief p then it would not seem to him that p. But the sort of case I have in mind is Meno having the belief that virtue is just the ability to rule over others. And Meno also having the unscrutinized background belief that tyrants don’t count as virtuous. And the belief that tyrants have the ability to rule over others. So Meno has an inconsistency in his extended web of beliefs. Then the method of cases (Socrates asks Meno to consider the case of the tyrant). They then reason: Tyrants have the ability to rule over others. (It seems that) Tyrants don’t count as virtuous. So, virtue can’t be merely the ability to rule over others. The conflict between the explicit (consciously acknowledge) belief and the background (unconscious, inexplicit) belief is then resolved.

Maybe this process I’m thinking of is over and above the method of cases, but this is what I’ve had in mind when I’ve been arguing that it could help to make us more consistent.

Eric Morton

Well, I just noticed a typo in that last post: it should have said that I agree with you that if one had the background belief that not-p then it would not seem to one that p. (Maybe that can be fixed by the admin before the comment goes live? Or is that not the way it works?).

Moti Mizrahi

Eric,

Yes, I think that this process you describe is over and above the method of cases, which consists of making intuitive judgments in response to hypothetical cases. Those intuitive judgments can then be used in arguments. But the arguments are over and above the method itself.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Job-market reporting thread

Current Job-Market Discussion Thread

Categories